Monday, May 7, 2007

20 down, 30 to go

Militant Tricks

H. John Poole.


In Iraq and Afghanistan, Jihadists - primarily at the behest of Iran, although others are in the game as well - are starting a long, drawn-out campaign to regain control of these areas in the name of Allah. By using cheap, marginally trained suicide fighters, they save the lives of skilled instructors/commanders; by targeting the local government, they render America and its plans for the two nations unpopular; by avoiding the full impact of American firepower, they give the illusion of defeat when they really have won.

Or so H. John Poole claimed in 2005, when this book was published. I would say most of his claims seem to have been true, going on my newspaper-based knowledge of the subject. He does support his positions - mainly by quoting news articles and reports on Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the thesis of his book - that the U.S. should retrain its soldiers to fight primarily "guerilla" wars - is probably most important.

Since World War II, the U.S. has become master of "conventional" warfare, where two clearly defined armies get together and pound each other to pieces. As a result, it developed most of its technology to deal with tanks, large masses of soldiers, and aircraft (particularly that of the Soviet Union). However, most of its enemies (the ones it has fought actual battles against) fight "unconventional" warfare. By having a loosely organized military network; using lots of ambushes, infiltration of enemy camps, and attacks with explosives; and keeping as similar as possible to civilians; they often break the laws of war but usually win. Usually what happens is that the side with the bigger guns, bombs, and tanks loses, simply because they couldn't convince the enemy to stop fighting.

The main problems with "unconventional" warfare is that it's encourages chaos and is very gory for the winning side. Thus, it's usually used by people without political authority (the Viet Cong, for instance) and by people with some ideology judged more important than life itself (Communism is a good example). The main advantage is that it's cheap - bombs and RPGs are far cheaper than the aircraft and tanks they destroy.

On one hand, I expect this form of war to go away, since sooner or later its practicioners will want to conquer something instead of 'liberate' themselves from attacks they couldn't stop. On the other hand, why do something complex and expensive when everyone already knows how to defeat it?

Of course, this leaves the question about the U.S. armed forces unanswered. I would say "yes, we should modify our tactics for small wars, like the one in Iraq." After all, we aren't at present fighting anyone near our class, and if they did, they would be too afraid of our using nukes to get much of anywhere.

Did I mention that this book will bore the skull off anyone who isn't really into military science, like me?

Overall score: 4 Stars (I like it, but doubt anyone else will)